Feb 232024
 

By now little needs to be said about Hampden Estate, the famed Jamaican distillery that had its coming out party in 2018, a distribution deal with Velier, and a seemingly a new series of rums to collect just about every single year. For all its variety though, their presentation is pretty consistent and you can usually tell one at a glance just by looking at a label. Said labels conforming to all the usual Velier standards, and providing pretty much all the background details you could hope for.

In this case we’re dealing with five year old rum released in 2021 and before you ask, it’s called “The Younger” to distinguish it from the Hampden 2010 11 YO LROK also issued in the same year (which is not named, but which we shall call — obviously — “The Older”). The fermentation time is not mentioned, but we can assume a few weeks, using natural or “wild” yeasts; pot still distillation on double retort stills; aged in ex bourbon barrels with a 34% angel’s share.  And diluted down to 47% (as an aside, I’ve seen a label on a 3L jug at 49% but either it’s a misprint or substantially the same as this one) with an ester count for those who like their numbers, of 314.8 g/hLpa. This places the LROK (“Light Rum Owen Kelly”) in the lower levels and the Wedderburn category (only the OWH and LFCH are lower) and also makes the rum extremely approachable without going off the shredding deep end of the higher ester marks.

In spite of the “low” congener count, the rum represents itself well, starting with the open, which sports a serious set of sharp, distinct, funky aromas. Rubber, plastic, kerosene, fusel notes…rough and assertive stuff, which is about what we could expect from a youngish rum, tropically aged or not. It turns a little briny, then channels some citrus, flambeed bananas, yeasty bread, overripe pineapples, cherries, bubble gum. There are even some hints of coffee grounds and the metallic tinge of an ashtray that hasn’t been cleaned.

For 47% that nose isn‘t half bad (if occasionally discombobulated); the palate is in similar territory but here the strength may — surprisingly enough — be a bit too anaemic for finer appreciation. It’s thin and sharpish (not to its benefit, I don’t think), and astringent. It has flavours that in turn are sweet, salt and sour…which is nice, but not  always well coordinated, and one has to watch the sharpness. So – bubble gum, strawberries, citrus (red grapefruit), pineapples, vanilla, and some bitter coffee grounds. Once it quietens down  – and it does – it gets better because the roughness also smoothens out somewhat, without ever really losing its character.  Finish is decent: fruity, funky and some honey, plus cinnamon, cloves and maybe a touch of vanilla and pineapple chunks.

A lot of comments I found about this rum compliment its taste and smell and assure their readers that it’s a true Hampden, representing Jamaica in fine style. Yet almost all have various modifiers and cautions, and many compare it in some way to one of three rums from Hampden: the high-ester versions from the same distillery, the Great House series, and the backbone of the company, the 8 YO standard. Oh, and almost everyone mentions or grumbles about the price. 

This is completely understandable since a frame of reference is usually needed to place a rum in context – such comparisons are therefore useful, if ultimately pointless: trying to say one is better or worse than any other is entirely a matter of personal taste, really. And you either like it you don’t, can afford it or can’t, will buy it on that basis or won’t. As a middle of the road ester-level rum, I myself believe it’s a decent young rum, made in quantity with the usual Hampden quality, but not with anything really special tacked on that distinguishes it as superlative for its bracket. I’d buy the first bottle for sure: and would likely pass on a second after I finish sharing it around. I call that a qualified endorsement.

(#1059)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

Feb 162024
 

“Oh wow!” I wrote with a sort of delighted and startled surprise when first nosing Archie Rose’s 40% white rum they called White Cane. I had not tried anything from the distillery before – indeed, I knew very little about it — but the rich and oily scent of a mechanic’s shop fumigated with vanilla flavoured acetones was really not what I had expected as an opening salvo. And it didn’t stop there, because the seeming light ‘n’ easy aromas it started out with contained quite a bit more oomph than was initially apparent – once it opened it up it was brine, olives, ripe and watery fruits, lots of pears and papaya, figs and persimmons, even a hint of caramel and some sweet yet tart apple cider. The nose displayed a thickness and depth that was quietly impressive – one does not often see this kind of profile in a standard proof rum very often.

Putting down my glass, I looked curiously at the sample label. Who was is this outfit? What was behind the name? Was it a left-handed nod to WW1 ack-ack fire, maybe, or a hat tip to Riverdale and the comics? An old but forgotten relative, perhaps, or a gone-to-seed second eleven cricket player from the past who nobody except the owners remembered? 

Apparently not. Some references suggest that “Archie” was a slang word, a pseudonym for an underground distilling bootlegger at a time in the 1800s when the temperance movement was ascendant in Australia and distillation was illicit, if not quite illegal; and since the founder, Will Edwards established the distillery in its first location in Rosebery, an inner suburb of south Sidney, the name seemed a good fit. A more prosaic alternative is that the neighbourhood itself was named after an uninspiring and obscure 19th century British PM, Archibald Primrose, and the distillery took the contracted form of his name, so take your pick. 

Anyway, it was apparently the first new distillery in the city since 1853 (one wonders what the previous one was) and comprised of several Italian made fermentation tanks (named after rappers), and three hand built gas-powered steam-boiler-heated 3600-litre pot stills made by Peter Bailey, who at the time was the country’s only still maker. It was mostly family financed, and sported a very good bar right next to the distillery to help make ends meet.

“White Cane” was and remains the company’s only unaged rum (there are some experimentals coming as well, however), and it’s interesting that they went with that name instead of the near universal “cane spirit” moniker everyone else has been using over there. The source cane came from Condong up in NSW just south of Brisbane, so the molasses likely originated from the Condong Sugar Mill, and the wash blended two kinds of molasses – high test and B-grade —  fermented with two different yeasts for 4-16 days, then run through their main and pilot still at least twice, with part being “cold” (or vacuum) distilled.

That fermentation and complex distillation was probably why the taste, as well as the nose, had enough chops to excite some curiosity, if not outright enthusiasm. It presented like a crisp, tangy, citrus-like 7-up, with green apples, pineapples, ripe pears on the edge of going off, red grapes and a subtle bite of ginger. The nose, I felt, was better, but for the taste to be this interesting at 40% did demonstrate that the awards the rum won (three so far) was not mere happenstance or flinging medals at everything that turned up. The palate continued to provide subtle and almost delicate notes: white chocolate, crushed walnuts some mint, fennel, sweet coconut shavings and some faint mustier cardboard notes, leading to a short, easy, sweet and spicy finish redolent of cinnamon and ginger and papaya. Nice.

Names and origins aside, currently the distillery boasts five different rums (and fifteen whiskies, ten gins, four vodkas and various other alcoholic products, lest you err in thinking their focus is on the Noble Spirit). Their origin was, and remains primarily in, whisky, for which they have won oodles of awards, and boosted their cash flow so well that in 2020 they were able to float A$100 million financing to move to Banksmeadow, a few kilometres south of the original location, leaving Rosebery to be a sort of visitor’s area for tours, classes and other events. Two massive new pot stills were also installed allowing production to be significantly increased.

As always, there is the downside that such a wide variety of spirits production dilutes focus on any single one. Not something I can blame a distillery for, since making payroll, paying rent and expanding the business is what it’s about, but lessening the attention that can be paid to developing and improving one product. Clearly whisky is the core business and everything orbits that priority (my opinion); and we must be careful not to over-romanticize the myth of the Great Little Solo Distiller Working in Obscurity, since commercial enterprises do make good juice, and not always by accident or as throwaways. Recent “Heavy Cane,” “Virgin Cane” and other experimental rums Archie Rose is playing with point to a committed and interested distilling team that wants to do more than just make another supermarket rum.

The White Cane, even at 40%, is pretty good and that’s an endorsement I don’t give often. I think the panoply of tastes — admittedly delicate and occasionally too faint and hard to pick apart — play well together, don’t overstay their welcome or allow any one element to hog the show, and provide a nice drinking experience. Sometimes just as much work goes into an unaged spirit as an aged one — perhaps more since there’s no backstop of ageing to improve anything so what comes off the still had better be ready — and it’s clear the distiller paid attention to the entire production process to provide both mixing and sipping chops. One can only hope the distillery expands the range and ups the proof, because then not only would it likely garner even more awards, but I’d  be able to bug Steve Magarry yet again…to get me a whole bottle, not just a sample.

(#1058)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 7. This is Batch #2 from 2023. Batch #1 was introduced in 2022
  • Production notes from company webpage.
Feb 122024
 

It’s about time to clear up a backlog of older tasting notes that have been shoved to the back by newer and more exciting releases, and so for the next few weeks we’ll try to push some reviews of older expressions out the door. Today we’re going to go back and look at Savanna, that Reunion based distillery which has had a fair amount of good press over the last five years, though perhaps more remaining more popular and well known in Europe than the Americas.

What distinguishes Savanna is the range of what they make. Many distilleries have ranges that are steps of the quality ladder: some have lightly aged and filtered white rums, and cheaper mass-market blends made for mixing, for the budget-minded cost-conscious proles. The next rung would be rums aged up to maybe five or six years, costing a bit more but still affordable to most, moving slightly away from the cocktail circuit without entirely entering the sipping area. Once they get to double figures, say 10-15 years or so, it’s getting premiumised and more to have without mixing, and after 18 years, say, it’s entering rarefied territory. Around this price point are also found special editions, millesimes, limited blends, single barrel releases, commemoratives and other fancy releases that go north of three figures easy. These days secondary maturations or finishes are pretty much found on all levels (except the unaged whites for obvious reasons).

Savanna stands out in that it makes rums from both molasses and cane juice, instantly doubling the potential variety it makes. Just to keep all the permutations clear is probably why they have all those names for their rums: the “Intense” series are molasses-based and relatively low on esters, hence their being named “starter rums;” the “Lontans” (also called grand arôme rums) which are also from molasses but with longer fermentations and with a high resultant ester count; there are also the “Créol” rhums which are straightforward rhum agricoles, made from fresh sugar cane juice; and the “Métis” rums which are a blend of traditionnelle and agricole. Millesimes, fancy finishes and special editions at all strengths pepper their output as well.

From the above, then, you can get a clear picture of what this rums is: a molasses based low-ester blended rum, laid to rest in 2004, aged for 9 years in ex-cognac casks and then finished in a porto cask, released at 46%. These days that’s the spec for a really decent rum, but in 2014 when this came out, they called it a starter, which shows something of how much the world has moved on, and may be why so few reviews of it exist out there. 

Compared to some of the other Savanna rums tried in this lineup, the nose of this 46% rum presents as nuttier and slightly fruitier (strawberries, mild pineapple, cherries); there is a light aroma of acetones and nail polish wafting around and it’s very tart and pleasant…though I’m not sure I could pick it out of a lineup if tried blind.  After some time we have caramel and blancmange and toffee, swiss bonbons, vanilla, and a strong Irish coffee (used to love those as a young man). There is a dry wine-y note in the background, and some slightly bitter tannics reminiscent of pencil sharpener leftovers, none of it particularly excessive, more like a soft exclamation point to the main thrust of the nose.

The palate is somewhat of a letdown: I’ve been whinging about the mild inoffensive anonymity of 40% rums lately, so it’s surprising to find a rum six points higher providing so little character on its own account. It’s light, watery and sharp and none too impressive. Honey, nuts, dry pastries, toffee oatmeal cookies – it’s like a breakfast cereal with some extras thrown in. A bit salty and creamy here and there as the tasting goes on, with red grapes, pancakes, caramel, light molasses and some coffee grounds making their appearance, and they all vanish quickly in a short, sharp finish made exceptional only by its brevity.  

Overall, this is something of a disappointment, coming as it does from a distillery which makes some really impressive drams. Overall, one must concede that it’s not completely delinquent in taste – it does have aspects that are well done, and the assembly is decent: you will get a reasonable sip out of it.  It’s just there isn’t enough on stage for the €90 it goes for, it’s all quite simple and light… and one is left with the question of whether this is a poor man’s sipper or an indifferent high-end rum that got made too fast and issued too early. The fact that Savanna ended up releasing several 12 YO editions from the 2004 distillery outturn (including a grand arome I thought was superlative) suggests the latter may hit closer to the mark.

(#1057)(80/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • This is part of a collection of Savanna rhums Nico Rumlover sent me some time ago when he heard I was interested, long enough back for him to conceivably have forgotten he did so. Well, whether he remembers or not, I’m immensely grateful for the time he took to crate me a great selection of what the distillery can do. 
  • There are several 2004 Porto Finish single barrel editions out there: I have found two Lontans from different barrels, one eight and one nine years old, this 9YO Intense and a couple of 12YO editions. I’m sure there a few others.
  • Distilled April 2004, aged 9 years; outturn 1327 bottles. Initially I supposedly the notation of the barrel number (#973) was what it was aged in, but observed there was also a 2004 12YO which also has cask #973 marked on it and that one has an outturn of 1480 bottles. Facebook netizen Jizeus Christ Guitare set me straight by informing me this was the number of the Porto cask, which makes more sense, as it could reasonably be used multiple times. Given the outturn one wonders whether it’s a port pipe or other large cask.
  • For further reading on Savanna, I wrote a too-brief historical backgrounder on the distillery, here. A more recent visit to Reunion with a tour of the distillery was described by Rum Revelations in 2022.
Feb 092024
 

We’ve met this distillery before, a mere hundred reviews or so ago. Founded by the husband and wife team of Brian and Helen Restall in 2016, they have slowly built quite a repertoire of spirits (he likes dark ones, she prefers light so maybe there’s some kind of Jack Sprat vibe going on here) – standard rums, white ones, spiced ones, the 2021 release of the 2-3 YO 55.5% Pure Single Rum I enjoyed and a brutal 63% “fire cane” I really want to try, plus gin, falernum, limoncello and vodka, which covers the bases nicely.

So here they are again, with a somewhat offbeat take on the Pure Single Rum, if not as strong. Because the background of the company is covered in that original review, I won’t rehash it here, except to note that the columnar still I mentioned then – 380L and six plates — has a name: Alba, which was the initial name of Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter before he renamed her Allegra. I enjoy these little winks that distillers make to some interesting aspect of their past or something that interests them, in the naming of their still, truly.

Photo (c) Lord Byron Distillery website

Anyway, about the rum: molasses based, using distiller’s yeast on a wash left for seven days in closed stainless vessels, then run through the two copper alembics (it’s double distilled), then matured a minimum of three years in ex-bourbon barrels sourced from Woodford Reserve – which if shy they can call it rum, and not a cane spirit. Of course, bearing in mind the sustainable, ecologically-friendly, zero-waste nature of their operation and commitment to making pure rums, it’s not chill filtered and additive free. 

This is a rum that channels one of the more peculiar olfactory profiles I’ve yet come across- it reminds me something of some Japanese rums, especially kokuto shochus. It opens with an odd sort of earthy, mouldy, damp cellar aroma, and of wet, much-worn leather boots. Brine, olives and a vegetable soup with “plenty obstacles” and a fiery pimento for kick. There’s a sense of wet paint slapped onto decaying drywall, the bitter tang of roasting chestnuts (which I never cared for myself), plastic sheeting, and only at the end when all seems over and done with, do the shy tangy notes of ripe fruit emerge, some green apples, grapes, pears, that kind of thing.  It’s an unusual nose and I’m unsure how well it would work at a heftier proof point, though I would have liked to see that one a bit more, I think – a lot of subtlety gets missed out on that, say, 43% or 46% might have shown off better.

This observation is apropos for the palate as well, which is quite crisp: and while not exactly clear or clean, is close enough not to offend while still being rather too mild for everything it apparently stuffs in its jock. It channels a hot, almost sour and spicy Thai Tom Yum soup with no shortage of lemongrass, salted butter melting in a pan, with olive oil and toasted rye bread coming behind that. Again the fruits take something of a back seat and only start becoming noticeable after the rum opens up, and even then there’s not a whole lot that one can easily pick out: lemon peel, fresh peaches, pears, some watermelon, more or less. But it does meld nicely into the whole, some of the dirty notes from the nose are absent, and the finish concludes things well: short, sharp, reasonably flavourful, all of it fading fast and acting like it just wants to bail.

Strictly speaking this is not my dram of grog. I’m not won over by the loamy and earthy notes at the beginning (the official site entry refers to “bourbon corn” as a tasting note) and aspects of the nose in  particular don’t work for me; plus, as always, I have my issues with standard strength – it makes everything too mild which even a few additional points of proof might have showcased more effectively. Yet I can’t fault it for that, only admire the courage it must have taken to release the rum as it is, knowing it is something at right angles to more established profiles. So to conclude, Lord Byron’s rum showcases rather more potential than the sort of intense quality sported by the 55% 2018 Pure Single Rum they did before, and would seem to be aimed at the more easy going supermarket crowd who prefer more demure fare. The furious taste profile attendant on something stronger is missing, and the tastes will not be in everyone’s comfort zone: yet underneath all that, we see a much better rum is waiting to be appreciated, and now, having written my opinion, I think I’ll go back and try my sample a few more times. Let’s see if, after a few more hours, it delivers more concretely on what it promises.

Have a good weekend!

(#1056)(78/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 13
Feb 062024
 

Photo (c) Whisky Auctioneer

Rumaniacs Review R-162 | #1055

Fantasias as a class of rum have pretty much faded from public view, only resurrected periodically in retrospectives like this one – these days spiced rums and spirit liqueurs hog attention and wallets. Yet they were popular, once, mostly in Europe around the 1950s to 1970s. By the eighties the style had started to diminish in popularity and the rise of standards and production regulation at a country- or regional level, as well as the emergence of a “pure” rum culture probably caused is eventual demise…though not it’s complete extinction..

What Fantasia rums were, was an evolution of the “Inlander” or domestic rhums of Germany and eastern Europe, also called verschnitt: Stroh, Tuzemak, Badel Domaci, Maraska and Casino 50° are its inheritors. Originally it was cheap or neutral alcohol – often from beets – that was then added to: sometimes that addition was high ester Jamaican rums like DOKs, at others it was herbs and spices or infusions that gave it a local touch. It was always meant to be a sort of digestif, and this was why many of them were noted as being liqueurs. Italy was famed for them and indeed the first ones I ever found were from there, made by companies like Antoniazzi, Pagliarini, Tocini and Masera, who almost nobody now recalls.

As with those, not much is known about the company that made this one, except that it hails from west-central Portugal south of Porto; it was a wine wholesesaler and importer that also dealt in brandies and sparkling wines, and the “manufacture of prepared and unprepared spirits” (the Portuguese term is Aguardentes preparadas / não preparadas – fabricantes for those who want to try a better translation than my evidently wobbly one here). As far as I can tell, the company, which had a history dating back to the post-war years, eventually filed for insolvency in 2012 and was completely liquidated in 2023. 

Nose – No surprise: wispy and faint, and quite thin. Apricots and cherries in syrup, Ripe peaches and the tartness of unripe fleshy fruits. Cherry syrup and myrtle, rosemary. White wine, green grapes, toffee and some vanilla. A touch of apple cider and lemon pie.

Palate – Sweet, but with an edge. Ripe apples and riper mangoes, plus those cherries in syrup again, which if I recall those first Italian fantasias from the 1950s I tried so many years ago, was something of a characteristic for them too. A nice hint of brine, olives and hot black tea; vanilla zest and some ice cream is about all.

Finish – Sweet, light,  bland; vanilla and light pears, a touch of salt.

Thoughts – Such a mixed bag of various tastes and aromas, that it comes out as indeterminate, and the additions are clear: no barrel ever imparted flavours such as these, although there is a tinge of “ruminess” coiling about the whole thing, so it’s not completely bad. Still, even at 40%, discerning a real profile is an effort in concentration: at end, what we conclude is that it really is mostly like flavoured rum-like ethanol and sugar water, without enough of a body or character to make a coherent statement for today’s rum enthusiasts. We buy it more for history and curiosity, not for sharing or showing off.

(75/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The term “corado artificialmente” on the label means “artificially coloured”
  • The rhum was bought at auction – the 1970s era dates from the listing – and shared with me by ex-rumista, wrestling enthusiast and good friend, Nicolai, so thanks to the man for the assist.
Feb 012024
 

Cabarita Spirits is the Australian equivalent of Nine Leaves, or so I like telling myself, and Keri Algar, the Spanish-born New Zealander  who is the owner, may live in one of the prettiest places on earth, close to Cabarita Beach in the Tweed Shire of New South Wales (Husk Distillers are also in the neighbourhood). Like Yoshi-san in Japan before he did a runner on us, she is also chief cook and bottle washer, to say nothing of the entire procurement department, sales force, accounting section, maintenance manager, head distiller, bottling line and managing director all rolled into one. No, really.

Photo (c) Cabarita Spirits, from the webpage

All kidding aside, Cabarita is a small distillery, conceived in 2019 after Keri was feeling glumpish about doing soulless work for The Man in perpetuity. “I was wondering…how to be able to live on a Pacific Island in the possession of a small beachside rum bar without spending the next twenty years behind a desk, when it occurred to me that I might make rum, and that could be a means to my tropical dreams.” Starting with a rinky dink 25-litre still and a 25-litre fermenter and a lot of ideas led to two years of relentless self-education, distillery visits, sourcing equipment, and incredibly hard work and experimentation. Finally she ended up with a 230-litre copper pot still (handmade in Western Australia by HHH Distill), which she named Felix after her Spanish grandfather, who had worked as chemist in a sugar factory back in the day, and started commercial production with the usual unaged cane spirit (but oddly, no gin — “I never cared for it” she sniffs). While the official name of the distillery is Cabarita Spirits, she chose a different name — “Soltera” — for its associations with being carefree and unbound, though she does admit that these days she’s actually never been less carefree or unbound, what with all the effort of holding down all these jobs and only getting paid for one. But there are no regrets.

The “Oro” (“gold”) rum barrel aged cane spirit which formed part of the 2023 advent calendar is her second edition of a slightly aged product. Released in that year, it derives from molasses (sourced from Condong Sugar Mill in northern NSW for the curious), has a 3-4 week open fermentation time using commercial yeast, run through Felix and then aged for eight months in an ex-bourbon barrique that was re-coopered to ~120L and charred with a medium burn. What comes out the other end is an almost-but-not-quite colourless 40% rum that really isn’t half bad. All that hard work and playing around, methinks, sure paid off.

Let’s start with how it smells: sweet, light and citrusy, channelling the sunshine of a spring morning where the slight nip of departing winter still lingers and the grass is wet with dew. There are notes of key lime pie (including a warm pastry), light florals, pineapples, bananas and kiwi fruit, old paper, and a sort of potpourri air freshener. Also the faintest hint of vanilla and caramel, damp earth and cashews, but held way back. Air freshener, potpourri. I like the youthful freshness of it, the delicacy backed up by a solid backbone of aged and varied aromas, and call me a romantic, but I see the owner in this one in a way I rarely do with others.

What I want to remark on as well, is the way the palate opens up over time. Initially it doesn’t taste like there’s too much going on (“too faint” I grumbled in my initial notes before crossing it out…twice) – laundry drying on the line, ginger, yoghurt, olive oil, caramel, citrus and pineapples (again). It takes effort to tease these notes out. Yet after five minutes, then ten, then half an hour, it turns bright and sparkling, and what in a lesser rum might be faint and wispy anonymous notes of zero distinction is transmuted somehow to a taste that’s really quite lovely. By the time I’m done, I’m scribbling about citrus, mangoes, laundry detergent and pastries and pouring another glass for Mrs. Caner to try and admiring the finish, which is longer and more crisp and tart than any standard strength rum has a right to be,

Admittedly I’m fonder of higher proof rums, so freely concede that, sure, yes, there could be more strength here (and my score reflects that): yet somehow the whole thing works well and it deserves its plaudits. Consider also the difference between what this is and what the disappointing Bayou White from last week was. There we had a sort of indifferent lowest-common-denominator commercial product made to sell and not to taste: it had about as much character as a sheet of saran wrap. Keri has not made a world beater here, no – I’d be lying if I said that – but she’s made a tasty rum with passion and drive and her own character stamped all over it. It’s a lovely little number, and a win in all the ways that matter.

(#1054)(83/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 5
Jan 282024
 

Consider for a moment the distinctive bottle shape and sleek label design ethos of the Bayou Louisiana white rum.  The crystal clear white and green1 motifs (call me an overly-visual imagineer if you will) hints at cane juice, grass, and sunshine and channels thoughts of a clean and tasty white rum in fine style. Just as well that this is all in my head because while the text tells you the usual stats, little of the images and sense of what they represent, is real.

The company making the rum is called Louisiana Spirits LLC: it was founded in 2011 by brothers Tim and Trey Litel and their friend Skip Cortes, with Bayou as their flagship brand in January 2013 (the idea had been floated in a duck blind). The chosen name was obvious (and survey-tested for its recognition factor, as if this were necessary), and back then the design had a ‘gator on it. By 2018 in a rebranding exercise it had been renamed “White” and the modern design had snapped into focus. The wag in me suggests that maybe more surveys were done but actually that’s when the SPI Group (the owners of Stoli vodka and headquartered in Luxembourg) who had already bought a majority stake in 2016, acquired all the remaining shares and took over. Some still tout it as being the largest privately owned rum distillery in the US, which I guess depends on how you look at it and where the private hands are.

Anyway, the production details: those are scanty. The label says it’s made from molasses and “sugar cane” (what does that mean, I wonder?); the company website notes the molasses as being blackstrap, provided by a family-owned sugar mill in Louisiana, M.A. Patout and Sons (whose centuries-old history is quite interesting in its own right), yet don’t seem to have any interest in making cane juice rums in the one state which has oodles of cane fields in close proximity. They have a pot still. They blend. The white rum supposedly rests for forty days before being bottled. That’s it. 

Based on how it samples, I wonder at that last bit — because all the solid character of a rum that’s had nothing but “rest” to calm it down off the still, is missing. The rum is a whole lot of standard strength nothing-in-particular. The nose channels a puling sort of weak candied ethanol, vanilla, watered down yoghurt (is there such a thing?) plus a whiff of shoe polish, sugar water and the faintest suggestion of pears and watermelon. This is a glass I poured first thing in the morning when the senses were sharp, kept there for an entire day, and that flaccid set of notes was all that was there the whole time.

There’s a bit more action on the plate, though I confess that this is damning it with faint praise since it started from such a low level already. Some sweet gherkins, a touch of tart fruit, biscuits, more ethanol and sugar water. I thought I spotted a green grape making out with a ripe pear at one stage, but admit this could be my imagination, the whole thing is is so faint and lacklustre. The finish is actually not too bad – it has some sharpness and dry robust character, and here one can get a vague sense of apples, green grapes and vanilla. Overall, however, it’s too little, too faint, too late and simply serves to demonstrate how everything that comes before is sub-par. 

The Rumaniacs series boasts many examples of anonymous inflight minis, holiday-resort stalwarts and cruise ship staples exactly like it, and maybe that’s all this is really good for, because it channels the sort of bland, lightly aged, filtered, colourless mixers that Bacardi did with such aplomb in the seventies. Bayou continues this noble tradition, and lures you in with a great presentation bolted on to a taste that’s inoffensively boring and milquetoast, and so devoid of character, that one is, with genuine befuddlement, forced ask what they thought they were doing. If Bayou were trying to make a light vodka-like spirit, or a standard white back-bar mixer without pretensions, then they surely succeeded. If they were trying to make a white that wowed people’s socks off and put the US rum producers on the map, not even close.

(#1053)(72/100) ⭐⭐½


Other Notes

  • From my experience, I would suggest the rum is slightly aged and filtered to white, even if this is not mentioned anywhere.
  • Although taken over by SPD, much of the original staff seem to have remained involved, especially the head distiller, blender and even the owners.

Opinion

While for most average rum drinkers or rum buyers the disclosure on production mentioned above is enough, for my money that’s not even basic information. Fermentation is not mentioned; abv off the still is not disclosed; no photo of the still is on the website; and the ageing program is never discussed, which is to say, is the rum treated a la Bacardi with one or two year’s ageing and then filtered to white, or is a true unrefined white such as are increasing in popularity and which actually taste like a rum, not alcoholic water?

None of this is considered important enough to either mention on their website, in any of their many press releases, or interviews in the media. To me, it says a lot for what the rum truly is: a commercially and indifferently distilled product with no pretensions to being anything more. I don’t hold any grudges on this account, but what’s the big deal about mentioning it? Own your sh*t ,and don’t dress it up like something it’s not.

Still, one can only admire their expansion. The company stated it was moving 15,000 cases a year in seven states by the time Stoli approached them at the tail end of 2015, which is an incredible feat to have accomplished in three years, when you think about what the market in the US is like — one can conclude either it’s because of their great product or their great distributor or great marketing.

But I am of the belief that no producer or distiller who is truly proud of the product they make, tells you so little about it while dressing up their bottle so smartly…or disposes of their interest so fast. The fact that they sold out less than five years after they began suggests that money was always the motive, not making a really good white rum that would put Bayou on any list of great American rum producers. And I think that’s something of a shame.


 

Jan 232024
 

Black Gate distillery is an outfit to keep an eye on. The husband and wife team of Genise and Brian Hollingsworth made waves (to me, at any rate) with their 52% Dark Overproof back in 2021 and in 2023 they have come close yet again with this lovely Shiraz-cask-aged number – which doesn’t reimagine the rumiverse so much as take lots of what’s good with it and re-engineer it into a taste that’s uniquely their own. 

Let’s just refresh our memories: located in central New South Wales, Black Gate was founded in 2009 in the small rural town of Mendooran. The husband and wife team splits the duties: Genise Holingsworth does the good stuff and makes the Lord’s favoured spirit, while her husband Brian dutifully makes that other obscure drink and handles the maintenance aspects (he’s a fitter machinist and auto mechanic by trade). They sourced two pot stills – relatively small at 630 litres and 300 litres capacity – and work with food grade molasses, commercial yeast and water, to make their various rum expressions. All are small batch (the rum output of Black Gate is only about 2000 litres per annum, and that includes the other thing). The distillery makes various Dark Rums with different finishes or cask maturations, and aside from whiskies, no cash flow stalwarts such as gins or “cane spirit” seem to be on the menu. 

Photo (c) Black Gate Distillery FB page

Rums are aged in Port or Sherry casks, or both, for a minimum of two years — to be able to be classified as “rum” under Australian law, if you recall. With respect to this one, the source was from the aforementioned molasses, and fermented for around two weeks, then run through the direct-fire pot still, aged about 3-4 years in a 225-litre Huntington Estate Shiraz cask from Mudgee, then left to rest for two months before bottling. As with the overproof, labels are all the same for all these dark rums no matter when made: the specifications are, in a clever bit of economising, white printed stick-ons. The strength of the sample from the 2023 advent calendar was 45.6%, and I note there’s a newer version for sale on their website at 47.2%, so be aware of and on the lookout for some batch variation.

More is not needed so let’s get right into it. Nose first – this starts off interesting right away: rubber, funk, rotten oranges, flowers, tart yoghurt, wet leather and the sour hotness of kimchi, ashlyan-foo and turkish peppers. Underneath this rather startling mash up lurks a musky odour of damp loam, a kind of freshly watered potter’s mix which doesn’t sound appetising, but which I assure you, kind of is. Coiling around all that are fainter notes of acetones, ginger, vegetable soup, and pickled russian cabbage (not sauerkraut). The nose as a whole is not unpleasant, just goes off at something of a tangent and it’s probably a good idea to to let this one stand for a bit and come back to it a few times to get the full impact.

What I like about the taste is that it provides the tangy fruit that are not as clearly evident on the nose. Slightly sweet, it presents chocolate oranges, some caramel, leather, smoke, with vanilla and darker fruit (prunes, ripe raspberries, plums) coming through off the shiraz cask and the ageing. Ginnips, fresh cashews, grapes and green apples with a touch of licorice and that damp earth, apricots and overripe Thai mangoes, accompanied by a solid spicy heat all the way down culminating in a really nice low key but long lasting finish redolent of honey, brandy, coffee and fruitiness.

That’s really quite a bit for any rum to be sporting, and is one of the reasons I kept it on the go for longer than usual (two days)…just to see how it would develop. What may surprise casual drinkers is that even with all those sometimes off-kilter tastes coming through (and I must be honest – the assembly is a bit off and some will not like everything they taste here), the rum feels really accessible, even to the less exacting drinker. It gives a lot and the strength is right – more power and intensity might have shredded it – and so it doesn’t so much so much rock the boat as gently move it around a few times.

Speaking for myself, tasting this thing was a pleasure – because with their playful experimentation, careful distillation and shiraz ageing, Black Gate have produced a young rum that is a touch off the rails, sure, but also a decent and intriguing sipping experience. Perhaps it’s no accident that That Boutique-y Rum Company picked it as one of their ‘Return to Oz’ series recently. If I was their buyer, I would likely have given it a shot too.

(#1052)(84/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • The exact age is unknown. 3-4 years goes the blurb
  • Outturn is also unclear – because of the small scale of the distillery and the notation that it is one barrel (#BG-140), one must assume it’s less than 350 bottles.
  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 17
Jan 192024
 

Although I tried all three standard expressions of the Romero Distilling Co. at the Rocky Mountain Food and Drink show in Calgary in 2023, I had already bought all of them before, and this came in useful when double checking my quickly scribbled notes on the “Amber.” That was the one which I had almost bypassed in favour of the “Dark” and the extraordinary full proof Sherry Cask edition — which I still think is one of the best Canadian rums I’ve had to date.

A quick recap: the Calgary-based Romero Distilling Company was founded in 2018 by Diego Romero, an engineer who opened the distillery with his son Tomas (it was the latter who was running the booth that day), with a 2000-litre hybrid copper still and three 2000-litre fermenters; they use Crosby molasses from Guatemala (by way of New Brunswick) as its base, together with a commercial yeast. The company only makes rum, and remain very little known outside Alberta…which I’m hoping will change.

This rum derives from molasses, then, and is dialled in from a pot still configuration. We have no information on the duration of the distillation date, fermentation process, or the exact age of the resulting distillate. As far as I know, it’s a couple of years old (aged in ex bourbon Woodford Reserve barrels), with a relatively short time in the ex-Oloroso sherry barrels…a few months, perhaps – neither data point is provided. I am at a loss why such information is not placed front and centre on the label or the web page, since it would seem to be an obvious selling point, but Romero has stated that they want to de-emphasize the number-counting people do when considering ageing as a factor, and focus on the blend as a whole. As before, I think this is not the right course of action in today’s more open world. But that’s Romero, so let’s move on to what it’s actually like.

The nose starts off by being rather thin and uninviting, which is not unusual for a 40% rum, and it does present as somewhat alcohol forward without much that’s redeeming…until it starts to build up a head of steam. Then we get some plastic, plasticine, iodine and licorice, which is nice, and toffee, caramel, vanilla and brown sugar, which is better. As it opens up there are additional hints of new leather shoes, some spicy notes (cinnamon, maybe, and cardamom), and a peculiar, faint combination of fresh sawdust and peaches in syrup, all very delicate.

Much of this comes back on the palate when tasted. There’s some slightly sweet alcohol, glue, fly paper (I swear!), cardboard, hay and a milk-soaked long-standing bowl of weetabix. With some effort — the rum remains faint throughout and one really has to pay attention — there are also red olives and raspberries, but not a whole lot more.  The finish, no surprise, is short and thin, but very clean and a little sweet. Not too bad.

Eschewing spices — supposedly it didn’t have any — and going for the sherry finish was probably a good idea, because really, the rum would be thin gruel without it. That finish saves it from being some kind of light 1970s throwback of the kind I’ve learned to endure (but not particularly like), and there’s enough going overall on for those with more sensitive snoots than mine to be able to sip it without undue issues. 

For my money, however, the rum is too weak and it’s too faint, and that’s in spite of the sherry finish that provides such an intriguing but hard-to-sense counterpoint to the familiar vanilla and butterscotch notes coming from the ex-bourbon barrels. There’s potential here, and one can sense a better, stronger and more assertive rum waiting to emerge. It’s just not enough, and if we really wanted to see this thing cranked up, well, I guess then we’d call it the full proof edition, wouldn’t we, and it’s already established that that is the better rum. So for those who want to play it safe, save fifteen bucks and have a decent drink, this is the rum that will do the trick. For everyone else, it’ll be slim pickings.

(#1051)(75/100) ⭐⭐½

Jan 152024
 

Once again we start the new year off with a series of rums from the Australian Advent Calendar, 2023 Edition.  First issued by the Australian rum-loving couple Mr. & Mrs. Rum in 2021, not in 2022 and now again for 2023, it answers what we out west have been wondering about for years (well…at least I have) – what’s going on with the rums being made in Australia over and beyond Bundaberg, which everyone cheerfully loathes and Beenleigh which everyone likes? Twenty four rums in the calendar, a whole raft of new and old distilleries strutting their stuff, and let me tell you, to get them to Canada was a ripping yarn in itself…not entirely unlike Butch’s father’s watch, you could say.


We begin the series out of order, with a rum from the island of Tasmania, made by a little outfit called Island Coast Spirits, located just south of Hobart, the state capital (Tasmania is an island state of Australia). It is, it should be noted, not a distillery itself since it has no equipment. The owner, Kirk Pinner, runs over to the Observatory Hill Winery (about half an hour to the NE on the other side of Hobart) which (a) is run by a friend (b) makes rum (and brandy, gin, schnapps and wine) and (c) has a still. He rents that still and makes his own rum, so not quite a contract operation like we saw with Mandakini a few weeks ago, yet not entirely a true producer or an indie either. The website is rather scanty on details, so Kirk very kindly answered an email of mine providing some of this info, and a brief company bio is provided below.

For the purposes of this review, what we need to know is the following: the rum is made on a pot still, using a combination of fermented raw cane juice and molasses…so a hybrid rum if there ever was one. Once off the still it is aged in ex-Bourbon barrels with a light char, for something just under three years and bottled at living room strength of 40%.

“[My desire was…] to produce the spirits I wanted,” Kirk wrote to me, and clearly he had something easygoing in mind. Not some backyard snarling ester-sporting beefcake that stomped all over one’s glottis, just a rum that was easy and accessible. The nose confirmed that he did fairly okay with that: it smelled of delicate icing sugar, vanilla, pastries hot from the oven, as well as more standard caramel, swiss bon-bons and a light touch of molasses and brown sugar. Also some cinnamon, eggnog, ice cream, a relatively sweetish aroma, and all over soft and straightforward and simple. 

The 40% ABV made for a clean and unaggressive entry; it tasted pleasantly warm and a little sweet and came completely without aggro. Vanilla and caramel and toffee carried over from the nose. A few sweetish fruit – peaches, pears – nothing too acidic or tart. Molasses, a hot caramel macchiato, flambeed bananas, icing sugar on a cake fresh out of the oven, leading serenely to a short, finish that summed up the preceding without adding much that was new. 

Picture (c) Island Cost Spirits FB Page

It’s a nice little rumlet without undue pretensions, but that same easy going nature is something of a weak point for those who like their rums more assertive. There are amber Bacardis with more going on than we see here, and I had similar remarks (and reservations) about Killik’s Gold, where I noted that such low ABV hamstrings a rum that could be better a few points higher. But that said, it will work for some, because it’s simply not trying hard to be a game changer…just a soft breezy rum for easy sipping. On that level it succeeds, and the awards it’s racked up in its brief life – a silver medal at the 2022 Australian Rum Awards in Queensland, and another silver at the World Rum Awards in London in 2023 (pot still NAS category) – suggests that others certainly seem to like what the company is offering, my own reservations notwithstanding.

(#1050)(77/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Fermentation time, barrel size, ratio of sugar cane juice to molasses, outturn, are all unknown
  • From the 2023 Australian Advent Calendar, Day 4

Brief Historical bio

Island Coast Spirits is, as noted, a Tasmanian spirits maker (not a distillery). It was founded in October 2021 and has adhered to the principle of making their spirits on a third party’s distillation apparatus — a pot still — from the beginning. This was a conscious decision made at the inception: Kirk Pinner knew when he began planning, that he did not want the significant overheads and costs/debt associated with setting up his own distillery. He wanted the flexibility to not have all that headache but to be able to concentrate on his own desires and strengths: namely to have the ability to take on projects/new spirits on a whim without worrying about the infrastructure; and to focus more on the business relationships, ingredients, selection of barrels, blending and back end work. To that end he turned to those with some expertise (like Observatory Hill Winery) and used their skills to make his spirits.

In the three years since he began, the company now makes seven different products: Vodka, Rum, Gin and Whisky, and three flavoured vodkas. So far there is just one rum in the portfolio – this one – with another very interesting one in the pipeline waiting to be released sometime in 2024.  In the meantime, the distribution within Tasmania and on the mainland is good, and Kirk is building on his success (and awards) to take his juice on the road to various F&B trade expos in Asia to promote the island, the brand and the rum. 


 

Jan 082024
 

This is the third time I am coming to the famed Nicaraguan rum producer’s 12 year old rum.  The first occasion was in 2011 when I was still somewhat wet behind the ears: then, I commented that it was a bridge between the sipping quality older expressions and the younger mixers of the bartender’s arsenal. In 2017 I picked up another bottle to see if my opinions had changed significantly after additional years of tasting and writing, a wider and somewhat more experienced palate and a better sense of the global nature of rums. They hadn’t. It scored around the same both times.

In 2022 I went through the 12, the 15 and the 18 yet again. There were several reasons for this. One was simply opportunistic — they were available all in a row (well, why not? It’s as good a reason as any). Two, the “Centenario” is relegated to much smaller type, there is a ‘Carbon Neutral Certified’ notation, the “slow aged” thing so many sneered at in years past is gone, and an unambiguous age statement is right there: 12 Years Old. So I was curious whether that translated into something more serious. And lastly, the reviewing game tends to focus on currently popular rums and bottlers, so to revisit an old standby is needed every now and then, perhaps to apply a corrective, to check out a change in blending philosophy, or simply to see how one’s own opinion may have developed. 

On the face of it, it’s not a substantially different rum. It remains a column still distillate from molasses made by the company’s facilities in Nicaragua. It adheres to the Latin/Cuban style of rum-making whereby a light distillate is sought and the real quality of the final product is demonstrated not by fermentation or still-tweaking, but by what happens after: by ageing in ex-bourbon barrels, marrying and skilful blending over time. I’ll take it on faith for now that it really is 12 years old.

By the standards above, the Flor 12 YO does not break much new ground or show off anything widely divergent from its predecessors, though it remains a tasty dram. It is gentle to smell, easy on the nose, well rounded aromatically and reminds of us of why it retains much popularity: some molasses and brown sugar notes, honey, almonds, cinnamon and light flowers. A touch of vanilla, polished leather and smoke, not much more. 

40% won’t ravage the palate and the age has sanded off most of the roughness. Again there is the caramel, bon-bons, light molasses and honey. The almonds and spices – vanilla and cinnamon – make a reappearance in the background and the florals recede somewhat, while lending a subtle and delicate counterpoint. White chocolate, orange peel and nougat round things out in a finish of no great length, intensity or complexity. Like the coitus of the young, it’s over quickly.

While not particularly disappointed by the 12 YO, I’m not really impressed by it either. There are few notes of distinction about it, little that is special which would elevate it above many other blended rums of similar age that compete more successfully in the same age space: El Dorado 12 YO, Bacardi Diez, R.L. Seale 10 YO, English Harbour 10 YO, Appleton 12 YO, all of which score the same or a bit higher. It’s affordable and it sells, and the fact that it remains available after all these years indicates something of its appeal and durability. But to me, it feels like something of an indifferent throwaway, a “merely necessary” rum that is needed to round out the portfolio…and thus, the kind of product one might find on a bottom supermarket shelf, where average rums go to die. 

(#1049)(80/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • All my Flor de Cana reviews, including those of the independents, can be found using this link. For my money, their best rum (aside from the 25 and 30 which I have not tried) has always been the blue bottled 15 YO “21”.
  • The Flor de Caña (flower of the cane) branded rum is made in Nicaragua by the Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua, which was formally established in 1937 (though workers of the San Antonio sugar refinery which was its basis  had been distilling their own festive hooch for local celebrations for maybe half a century before that, hence the “1890” dating on the label). The success of the distilling company led to expansion and to exporting rums to other countries in Central and South America by the late 1950s. Following on the heels of the trend established by DDL in 1992, they began to issue aged premium rums. In the mid-2010s the brand started to slip in popularity as independent bottlers, higher proof and special premium editions  became more popular. The the scandal of Chronic Kidney Disease around the same time was a huge reputational blow, and the company has reportedly addressed the major health issues which led to such damning reports, as well as pivoting to a more ecological production philosophy.
Dec 282023
 

A.D.Rattray. Gordon & MacPhail. Berry Bros. & Rudd. Cadenhead. The names evoke whisky, empire, Scotland and the early days of the Rum Renaissance through which we are still living. For the longest while, the occasional rums issued by these long-established companies, some of which are centuries old, allowed the diligent and solitary rumhound to taste what rums could be, were made to be, and kept the spark alive. Because throughout the second half of the 20th century, they were among the few bottlers of rum who eschewed the movement to light rums (i.e., chase Bacardi, copy vodka) and laid the foundation for the famed indies who came later – Samaroli, Bristol Spirits, Moon Imports, Veronelli, Velier, Rum Nation and so many others. They did so by bottling single barrel limited edition offerings, often at cask strength, and even providing marques, provenance and all sorts of other details we now take for granted (though even then, it was rarely enough).

While A.D. Rattray issued various countries’ rums in a consistent sort of series (their Caroni 1997 was one of the first of its kind I ever tried), G&M was only an occasional bottler, while BBR had the distinction of introducing us to Fiji, Foursquare and an epic 1975 Demerara way before we knew these were must-haves. Cadenhead however, took it in a different direction: alone among these early bottlers they created three separate lines of rums: in order of increasing value they were and are the Caribbean blends, the Green Label Series, and the Dated Distillations (see below for a more in-depth discussion) – and the last one is the one that excites more avarice and grail quests than just about any other bottler unless it’s the early Jamaican and Guyanese releases of Rum Nation, or the initial bottlings of Velier.

Some of the DD series were standard indie bottlings – middle aged, middle strength, from well known distilleries. Barbados (including “Blackrock”), Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica were the regulars, with others from Cuba, Fiji, Belize, Brazil, Guadeloupe, Nicaragua…even a single youngish 70% pot still release from St Lucia. Most were distilled during and after the 1990s…but their real unicorns were and are the very old ones: a 1974 30YO Uitvlugt, a 1974 19YO Longpond, and a 1971 22YO Enmore, and a bunch of 1960s Uitvlugts and Port Mourants that are rarer to see than Luca without a smoke or a sweater. Even on auctions you won’t find these very often and if you do you can be sure you won’t be able to afford them.


Which brings me to today’s rum. On the surface, it’s actually not that impressive, and I’m genuinely not trying to be elitist or anything, just clear: when one hears of a rum from the Trinidad Distillery, column still, 19 years old, from 2001…well, one hardly feels the fires of avarice burning in the cockles of one’s heart – because aside from Caroni and maybe Fernandes and 10-Cane, is there anything “serious” coming out of Trinidad, or Angostura? There are 294 bottles in play, at 55% and let’s face it, in these days of multiple indies pushing out product from Caribbean estates’ pot stills lovingly tended in distilleries with oodles of history, this is a rum that fades into the middle distance. A good rum, you tell yourself, but hardly a must have.

I imagine that a tyro nosing this for the first time with no advance notice must feel something like us newbs walking into that first John Wick movie without any forewarning. The sheer kinetic energy of that fight in Wick’s house is emblematic of the entire experience with the TDL 2001 because the initial nose is, in short, simply incredible. It’s rich, it’s deep and it seems to go on forever. It smells darkly tawny, Demerara-like, with ripe plums, prunes and bags of red cherries, cranberries, raisins and (wtf?) even a fusel oil background, a sort of medicinal iodine, or peat. In between all that waft hints of more delicate florals, dates, caramel, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, pine needles and bon-bons, all impacting the schnozz like a playful lion batting your face. For 55% ABV, the intensity and clarity of the aromas is just off the scale.

Oh and the taste isn’t lagging by any stretch either. In fact, it’s racing to get ahead. It’s really quite inspiring how much is stuffed into the profile of what is ostensibly a rum of no great shakes. It opens with hot tar and rubber, the hot smoky smell of a trust fund Lambo doing doughnuts in the Walmart parking lot, and then the fruits start coming with a marching band alongside. Prunes, overripe cherries, plums, blackcurrants, cranberries, pineapples, strawberries, followed by stewed apples, molasses and newly polished leather. And the spices, there’s plenty of those – ginger, vanilla, cardamom, sandalwood, even a taste of chamomile. It’s a veritable cornucopia and left me wondering in baffled astonishment what on earth they fed this thing before releasing it. Even the finish showed something of this richness and pungency, closing things off with dates, sweet balsamic vinegar (the kind with a fig infusion), lychees and overripe cherries and even a last touch of peatiness. It’s got so much going on that it becomes the sort of rare beast you have to go back to at least twice to really nail down.

It should not work as well as it does, yet it does. The depth is startling, the complexity completely unreal and it is clearly a whisky lover’s wet dream (as evidenced by the amount of anoraks who waxed rhapsodical about it after the fact). Quite frankly I have no idea how this has escaped notice or review all these years and am simply happy I managed to snag some. The only thing I can say with some surety and personal conviction about it, is that TDL / Angostura has got to have a bunch of Caroni barrels squirrelled away and salt some of their best rums with them, because that depth, that power of aroma and palate, surely comes from more than just an anonymous industrial still. It is perhaps no accident that so many positive notices have attended TDL’s 2002 “Flag Series” Trinidad rum that Velier issued this year, where similar surmises have been raised.

But in the end, this is what I come down to: every now and then you come across a bottle – and it’s almost by unheralded happenstance – that is so surprising, so unexpected, so immeasurably good, that it simply overloads your circuits and leaves you grateful that even in this day and age you can still be amazed and that there still exist interesting, tasty, off-the-scale rums that make one happy to try some, and thankful to have the opportunity.  For me, this is one of those.

(#1048)(93/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐½ 


Other notes

  • The three ranges of Cadenhead’s releases are:
    • The cask strength, single-barrel Dated Distillation series with a three- or four-letter identifier and lots of detail on source and age; I submit these are probably the best and rightly the most sought-after rums from the company (aside from a 1939-distilled Green Label from Ago).  The only question usually remaining when you get one, is what the letters stand for.
    • The Green Label series; these are usually single-country blends, sometimes from multiple distilleries (or stills, or both), mostly from around the Caribbean and Central/South America; a few other countries have been added in the 2020s.  Here you get less detail than the DDs, mostly just the country, the age and the strength, which is always 46% ABV. They had puke yellow labels with green and red accents for a long time, but now they’re green for real, as they had been back in the beginning.
    • Classic Blended Rum; a blend of Caribbean rums, location never identified, age never stated (anywhere), usually bottled at around 50% ABV. You takes your chances with these, and just a single one ever crossed my path. 
    • Strictly speaking there is a fourth type sometimes referred to as a “Living Cask” which is a kind of personalized shop-by-shop infinity bottle.  I’ve only tried one of these, though several are supposedly in existence.
Dec 222023
 

Rumanicas Review R-161 | #1047

You want to careful ordering a Clement XO rhum because there is another one also named thus which is not this at all; and two others with the same bottle shape but different names. Fortunately the other XO has a different bottle style and a different strength and lacks the word “Très” (very) in the title, and the ones that do take the bottle design are called l’Elixir or Cuvée Spéciale XO. So just a little caution is all I’m suggesting.

In another odd circumstance, the subject of today’s retrospective also lacks almost any reviews in the online rumisphere aside from Rum-X (of course) and my own unscored 2010 review. In fact, it does not even appear on Clément’s own website under any of its various collections – Old, Tradition, Modern, Iconic Blue Cane or Cuvee. The closest one gets to it is the sales on auction sites and as far as I can tell, RumAuctioneer put one up a few times, the last time being in 2021 where it fetched a surprisingly modest £150.

What this is is one of the first of the premium blends the company put out and is a marriage of what they felt was three exceptional years’ production: 1952, 1970 and 1976, which were also released as individual millesime bottlings. It’s unclear those individual releases were issued before or after this blended XO (I only managed to acquire samples of each many years later). But since the 1952 component has now run out, the specific blend comprising the XO is now defunct and while the company uses the same sleek bottle for other XO rhums, the label is subtly different for each, denoting a different product.

Note also that whether the rum is composed exclusively of those three vintages or is a blend that includes them, is currently unknown. Dave Russell in his 2017 review thought the latter, and David Kanj on Facebook (who brought it to my attention) said he had never been able to confirm it with Spiribam either. Will update, if I can nail it down one way or the other.

Colour – Gold

Strength 44%

Nose – Luscious; deep fruitiness; persimmons, passion fruit. Herbs, cinnamon, vanilla, light toffee, apricots. Green apples and ripe dark grapes. Very appetising and aromatic, if not as crisp and clean as a modern agricole. Just really pungent and complex.

Palate – There’s a smoky, dry. leathery tang of an old port to the initial tastes, but it comes over nicely because of the heft and solidity n the tongue – the mouthfeel is really quite good. Apples, apricots, hard yellow mangoes on  the edge of going soft, and raisins and red wine. To be honest, after years of acclimatising myself to rums at 60% ABV or greater, the XO here no longer demonstrates sharpness (as I commented in my original review) but crisp solidity, even a touch of softness.

Finish – Just excellent. A fitting conclusion to a delicious dram. Crisp, slightly sweet, smooth, deep, dry and with yellow almost-overripe fruits at every turn.

Thoughts –  I was right not to score this at the beginning of my rum journey, since in 2010, the chops to evaluate it was lacking – to this day we still see too few agricoles in Alberta. Back then I commented on its sharpness and its taste without being too chuffed by it.  Coming back after a span of nearly fourteen years, I appreciate it much more for what it is: one of the best aged agricole blends I’ve been fortunate enough to try. Those who have a bottle squirrelled away have a real treasure in their cabinets, a delicious dram representing a time traveller washing up on our modern shores, from the far off Days of Ago.

(88/100) 


Other notes

  • The AOC was first established in 1996, so none of the component rhums conformed to the restrictions; irrespetive of the AOC on the label, then, those expecting a clean, grassy, herbal modern agricole might be somewhat taken aback by the profile, which has its own unique vibe. I assure you, however, it’s all to the good.
Dec 182023
 

Perhaps this rum was inevitable.  Maybe spurred on by the rising price of ex bourbon barrels, or the desire to experiment, or the curiosity about whether a peated whisky really is like a Caroni, or simply to attract those who can no longer afford the Octomores and other similar expressions of Islay, some bright spark at a rum distillery has finished his rum for six months in a peated (Speyside) whisky barrel.

Is that a real thing, or is it just a stunt? Commentary on Rum Ratings suggests a sharply divided audience on this and when you smell it, you can understand why – that peated barrel has a real influence here. You get the initial slap of iodine, antiseptic industrial hospital corridors and seaweed right away, only marginally offset by vegetable soup, some heavy overripe fruits,  caramel, smoky vanilla and leather. The odour of smoke and wet charcoal and ashes is discernible but remains restrained and stays back, and there’s a bit of rubbing alcohol that the ageing has not managed to dispel. It gets slightly deeper and more involved over time but too  my mind, that’s not enough to really elevate it to something top tier.

This is all fine, but it is rather off the beaten track: and if it’s one thing years of tasting new and experimental rums has shown me is that (as with electronics for example) while there are always some rabid early adopters, and those with tastes that go for something this off the wall, it takes rather longer to bring the average consumer along to accepting something so different. And it is different – it’s like Mhoba’s Bushfire, or some of the more radical rums experimentals that get aged in completely new woods that make them smell and taste like barbecue sauce, or a maple syrup.

Still, smell is one thing, but what’s the taste like? Maybe that has a profile more rum-like? Yes and no. The taste is light (the standard strength again, so that’s nice) and easygoing…up to a point. It has a musky and dark feel to it, with notes of bitter, damp and stale coffee grounds, cardboard and mouldy paper, cheap dry unsweetened chocolate left open in the bin at a grocery too long. Again there are some dark overripe fruits but not much and not many and it’s hard to pin them down – plums, dates, figs, I’d suggest. Also medicine, camphor balls, damp sawdust, ginger and a touch of cinnamon, followed by a short and clean finish that again returns to iodine, rubbing alcohol, some toffee and molasses.

So with that out of the way, when I sit back and reconsider it all: in fine I’m not sure that for the average rum consumer that this actually works. It’s a blend of column still distillates aged 5-10 years and tropically aged in American oak, so that part is fine. The 40% ABV keeps the aggro down to a minimum. I didn’t get a chance to test it, there’s something about the ease and rounded nature of it all – even with that delicate peaty bitterness in the background – that suggests it’s not entirely kosher and has been added to, however slightly (NB: however, not checked by me, so that is a completely personal opinion). 

But that peat…it’s is a love or hate proposition. Whisky drinkers would probably have no problems with this expression at all (and it was an anorak who gave it to me). Admittedly that aspect is not overdone and doesn’t take over the entire thing, but it is pervasive and never lets up, and lends a piquancy to the rum similar to (but quite different from) the profile demonstrated by good Caronis. Moreover, the more subtle fruity and wine-y notes imparted by wine, cognac, or other common finishing casks are pretty much absent, this upsets the balance of various elements and gives the impression the rum is not a vehicle to demonstrate the rum, but the whisky element. So with that in mind, it’s up to an individual drinker to decide whether that’s in her or his wheelhouse. Speaking for myself, I have to admit that it doesn’t entirely play in mine.

(#1046)(78/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • My thanks to Curt from Kensington Wine Market in Calgary who gave me the sample to try.
  • Relicario is a brand not a distillery. Made by Barcelo (now a brand within a larger corporate umbrella and no longer the original family’s enterprise) in the Dominican Republic, on the facilities of Alcoholes Finos Dominicanos, which is a new distillery built with EU funds and owned by several major shareholders and investment firms.
  • 1048 bottle outturn according to the label.  It’s a blended rum of several ages ranging from 5-10 years, not of any particular year.
  • Company legend has it that two bottles of an old rum were found in an old reliquary (which is a container made for holding holy relics like saint’s bones or hair) and the profile was replicated to form the line of the brand. I like a good backstory, but never really believe any of them.
Dec 112023
 

For a country that boasts a huge population of rum-swilling West Indians and a not inconsequential number of Maritimers out east who inhale dark rums with their Jiggs Dinner, it’s odd that rums are not more appreciated and available than they are. To some extent the paucity of decent rums from abroad is alleviated by the emerging local craft distillery movement, with tasty products coming out of Ironworks, Romero, Mandakini and Potters (among several others); too, the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation makes some really interesting blends (Cabot 100 and Young’s Old Sam remain personally appreciated mixing favourites) and there’s even an Indie bottler out in BC called Bira!, run by a friend, Karl Mudzamba which fields a cask strength South Pacific and Mhoba release, with more to come.

Against all of that you have the also-rans that clutter up the store shelves in their multitudes, and which occasionally tax my objurgatory powers and genteel vocabulary to the limit:  rums like Highwood’s Aged White Caribbean, Momento or the Merchant Shipping Co White, Minhas / Co-Op’s Caribbean White, all those cheap Lambs and Bacardis, and so on. There’s no shortage of low-cost fuel for the masses, yet an odd lack of serious attempts to go the Foursquare ECS route and produce a mid-level blended product of real class that can kickstart the premiumisation of Canadian rum.  And yet, as the Mandakini ersatz Malabari rum proved, go even a little off the reservation, take even a bit of a chance, target the right audience…and you can sell out every release you make.

The question the overlong preamble above poses for us today, then, is whether the first release of Secret Barrel Small Batch White Rum is gold or gunk, something that gives Canadian rum brownie points…or drags it down. Now admittedly, the presentation is nifty: it channels the old square shape of turn-of-the-century whisky bottles, as does the design of the label and its font.  And the narrative is amusing if nothing else: small batch, 40% and implying that maybe, possibly, it’s made in Canada (possibly in the south of Alberta, around Crowsnest Pass) by some mysterious old timer named John A. MacDonald. This is a gent who – so the back label helpfully informs us – is a cross between the Most Interesting Man in the World, and one who has exploits so off the wall that he’s obviously a relative of Chuck Norris, Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan…all at once. On the other hand, we get nothing about a true country of origin, a true distillery, a still, source material, ageing, nothing. 

Well, tasting blind sharpens the senses, I tell myself, so knowing the rum is standard strength, I waste no time, pour a glass and move on to how it performs. Nose first: faint nail polish and the light fruitiness of pears, papaya and watermelon start things off. It’s easy smelling, and way too light and pretty much in the wheelhouse of every bartender’s filtered white mixing rum. I expect more, somehow because although it starts off well, it fades really fast and soon it becomes more like a vodka than a rum, or some kind of mildly sweetish cough syrup.  Additionally there is vanilla, some sugar water, cucumbers in rice vinegar, a bit of tinned syrup minus the fruits, and there you have it. 

That taste is somewhat of a let down, to be honest, because the nose suggested there would be something there to enthuse, a bit of tart fruitiness maybe, some sweetness and edge, maybe a lone ester or two. Alas, no. One senses some sugar water and vanilla, a bit of overripe apple, a touch of brine, cucumber slices in alcohol, not a whole lot else; and adding water doesn’t do anything, least of all tease out more.  The finish is, at best, quick and lacklustre with vague hints of acetone, alcohol and sugar water, and so clearly it’s not a taster’s rum: and while two decades ago this might have been a great mixer, these days it fails when matched against the stronger and more distinct overproof cocktail rums many other distilleries are making.

So what’s the background? I mean, it’s surprising how little information there is about the thing and in this day and age no commercially made rum should deliberately chose to be so anonymous without having a serious quality behind it. The SMWS can get away with some of this mystery, but they’re in their own zone and do a decent job of it.  Not so here. 

However, I have managed to find out that the Secret Barrel is a Guyanese rum imported from down south (but not from where you think). It’s been aged a little, about a year or two, and imported as is, then bottled by Highwood Distillery in Alberta, though they themselves had no hand in the selection process – they did so on behalf of the owners of the Secret Distilling Company (see below for more details on company background). 

The whole business about John A. MacDonald is fun to read…and a cute fabrication, perhaps based on one of the founders’ relative or ancestors. Perhaps it’s just as well it’s a fireside yarn. Because although I genuinely wanted to like this rum – surely someone who had a sense of humour and a gift for tall tales would make a rum that’s just a bit off and good for raised eyebrows and a laugh or two? – it doesn’t really come up to scratch. Even with my limited experience in the world, my life is far more interesting than Old Mr. MacDonald’s, I have better tall tales and beer stories than he does, and for sure have had acquired far better rums than the one his name is on.

(#1045)(68/100) ⭐⭐


Company background

A few words on the company behind this little white rumlet. According to their slightly more informative website, Secret Distilling Company was started by a bunch of Calgarians in 2015 (I dug around and found out this was Adam MacDonald (the founder and man behind it all), and his friends Aaron Norris, Brendan O’Connor and Chase Craig, who all took over different aspects of the operation). They saw a market for rum opening in Western Canada, and rather than sinking serious money into a distillery and the concomitant years of development work, they went the blender’s route and looked around for stock. They found it in Guyana, and this is why their website speaks to them selling “Demerara” rums, as well as Banks XM rums.

Now this is where it gets interesting.  First of all, they never stated on the label of those Demeraras which operation supplied the rum, and most of you reading this would instantly think DDL. But it’s not. In fact, it’s from the other rum producing company in Guyana which gets far less attention, Banks DIH, who make the well regarded XM series of rums (which of course also contradicts the “Made in Canada” on the label). Secondly, in the About page they claim the rum is from the “Banks Distillery of Guyana” except that Banks is not and never has been a distillery – they’re a brewery and a rum blender, not a distillery, and have no plans to change that. But ok: let’s chalk that up to beginner’s enthusiasm and cut them some slack.

And thirdly — and this is what got me going down the rabbit hole in earnest — on the aged Demerara rum label, they added the signature of Mr. Carlton Joao, as the Blender. This is two faux pas in one, because (a) they did so without his permission and (b) he’s not a blender at all, but a marketing executive.  How do I know that?  Because I know the guy personally — I went to school with him in Guyana, consulted with him on the Banks company bio — and so as soon as I saw this I picked up the phone and called him and asked what was going on. He said he knew nothing at all about it; Banks sold them stock between 2015 and 2018 and they distribute the XM rum line, but that was all. The commercial relationship was pretty much over years ago.

Where their rums subsequent to 2018 come from is not mentioned anywhere, but since the original founders sold out to White Pine Resources in 2017 (this was reorganised into SBD Capital, the current owner, the following year; they invest in mining and minerals properties and for a while had alcohol and liquor sales as its prime cash generation unit), it’s possible that the Guyana route was closed down and local sources may have taken over. Gradually sales dropped, the share price of SBD dropped from three bucks a share to pennies and when I spoke to Brian Stecyk, the CEO (who was more than helpful, if understandably cagey about the affairs of the company) I got the distinct impression he’s wrapping up the show and Secret Barrel is no longer a functioning entity. In a few years the rum is likely to be a Rumaniacs entry.


 

Dec 052023
 

In less than fifteen years, the entire rumiverse has changed so completely that not only can a not-that-well-known distillery from a not-that-well-known island make a cask strength rum of force and taste, but it is considered normal for them to do so; and that little distillery has become famous enough to be compared with the likes of major Caribbean outfits both older and younger, of far greater visibility. That is what the English Harbour High Congener rum really means, over and above its interesting stats.

The success of the indie bottlers in the last decade and a half in promoting distilleries and marques and whole countries – Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana are favoured expressions for all of them, though this is now changing – has forced many smaller distilleries in the Caribbean to up their game. Some have started exporting bulk to Europe themselves, for use by the IBs; some sell new make spirit to merchant bottlers direct. But most have expanded beyond their standard blends previously only distributed regionally; and begun pushing the edge of the envelope themselves, in an effort to diversify and premiumise, thereby capturing that slice of the market which the IBs helped kickstart. 

And they’re not the only ones: almost all major distilleries in the Caribbean now have entire ranges dedicated to high proof, well-aged and year-specific expressions that comprehensively eclipse their own efforts from ten years ago.  El Dorado, Foursquare, Mount Gay, St. Lucia Distillers, Appleton…the list goes on. They work with all aspects of the production cycle – fermentation, stills and distillation, ageing … and have vaulted rum into a whole different level.

Antigua distillers did the same, and I still remember one of their initial efforts, the Small Batch Sherry Cask finish expression, which I remarked was something of “an essay in the craft,” when it debuted in 2016. Now that’s almost passé, because consider this one from seven years down the line: a 2014-distilled rum based on molasses aged for six years in Antigua, which they call “High-congener” and which is a cousin to the 1423 SBS Antigua 2015 rum I’d had in The Proofing Room bar in London back in 2022. 1200 bottles of this hi-octane 63.8% column-still rum were released in 2020, which makes it a punchy six year old in all the departments that matter.

The nose is suitably big, given the strength: it has a richness that is very welcome, and feels solid and dep with notes of pineapple, strawberries and grapes, leavened with a more creamy lemon cheesecake, vanilla, and coconut shavings. Letting it rest helps things settle down and after a while aromas of cherries and green grapes emerge, a bit of mango juice and a tang of brine and olives, and a touch of salt caramel.

Tasting it shows where the rum shines, because here all the stops are pulled out, bunting unfurls and the brass band comes marching through: it’s smooth, buttery, creamy, all laban and cream cheese, brie, and brine, with soft tastes of olive oil, hummus and citrus. The acidity of the fruits and esters is retained, and a fair amount of spices – vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom – is in evidence. There’s toffee and caramel, tannins and coffee grounds, and a treat to sip even at that strength. If I had a whinge at all it’s that the finish is too short – there’s some brine, caramel, warm pastries and a dash of cumin – but overall, this is a rum that would work even if closer to standard strength and one wishes it was in a more general release than something so limited

So, to sum up, punch it does, if perhaps in too few areas.  I somehow expected it to be more complex, yet those aromas and tastes one gets are great in and of themselves. No congener count is provided, which is a shame – we wouldn’t mind knowing so we could rate it against the Jamaican marques. Still, I’d suggest the level is on par with the LROK (the HLCF at best). It is a pleasant, sippable, forceful, solid drink – the strength is no barrier to enjoying it (however, I would not recommend a quick initial guzzle, because 63.8% is 63.8% and it’ll hurt if you treat it with disrespect).

Beyond that, it exhibits a complexity that exceeds the Coeur de Savalle which was gingerly squeezed into a reinforced bottle at 73% or so, and although occasionally sharp and over-tart in the mouth, you can tell that it has a fair bit of funk in its junk, and that it’s a full proof aged rum of uncommon distinction that is quite clearly not a Jamaican. English Harbour, if it wasn’t there already, takes its place with complete assurance at the table already populated by the likes of esterati like Hampden, Worthy Park, Savanna and others, and without apology demands they all move aside to give it room. On the basis of this rum, I don’t see anyone denying them the right to take a seat.

(#1044)(87/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • Background material on the company can be found in the Coeur de Savalle review. I liked both equally, by the way, though for different reasons.
  • Antigua Distillers have made a virtue out of necessity: because they only have one columnar still, when it goes down for maintenance their tanks continue to ferment and of course develops into a more acid rich wash that provides the higher levels of congeners this rum displays.
  • Some other reviews: as of this writing Rum-X has 106 ratings averaging at 8.2/10. Stuart at Secret Rum Bar gave it an enthusiastic 90 points in December 2022, while Marius from Single Cask Rum awarded it 88 points in 2021, and in March 2022 John Go rated it 6/10, commenting on its lack of funk.

Historical note

Although they are seemingly everywhere now, back in the Aughts and early 2010s, independent bottlers and single cask releases were still not all that common or well known, though their star was rising among the cognoscenti. The main sources of full proof rums from distilleries (or stills) around the world were the whisky makers who occasionally dabbled their toes in this area of rum: Gordon & MacPhail, Samaroli, Silver Seal, Moon Imports, AD Rattray and Cadenhead for example. Aside from their releases, the only chance anyone was going to get to try something packing serious ABV was to buy any of the famed and ubiquitous 151s, and those were very young rums with little to distinguish them. Almost everyone else pretty much wussed out at 46% at best, except the French whose agricoles seemed to take great delight in up-ending expectations.

Fast forward to the close of 2023 and the landscape has undergone a sea change. Rums are being released north of 50% as a matter of course and an increasing number top 70%; Caribbean and other distilleries’ representative bottlings from dozens of small IB companies are so common now as to approach commodity status; the whisky makers are hardly considered special any longer, don’t issue nearly as much as they once did, and have ceased being serious factors in any budding connoisseur’s mental map of rum bottlers. That torch has decisively passed to the new and nimble independents, the new micro distilleries around the world, and the old estates that have invigorated themselves with new talent, new equipment and a desire to innovate.


Dec 022023
 

Almost all of Capricorn Distilling’s current line up of releases are good ones, and they haven’t even started a serious ageing program yet. Whether this is a matter of their desire to tinker and see what happens, or a clearly thought-out distillation philosophy, is unknown to me. What I do know, is that having tried their standard range (not the spiced, infused, gins, liqueurs or anything else) I can honestly state that if you get a white unaged Australian rum this year, you could do worse than buy a case of their juice generally – and the High Ester in particular. Because that thing is damned good: it channels Jamaica by way of Reunion, adds a measure of outback attitude, and sports serious rum making mojo on all levels. 

It’s on par with the overproofs of Black Gate or Killik (especially the latter’s Silver) in my estimation, and indeed it shares some of those rums’ DNA: molasses-based based, a 10-15 day fermentation using a different yeast from the Coastal Cane, some dunder for kick (and maybe a diced dingo or two, who knows? — with Warren, you get the impression that anything is possible). Then there’s a single pass-through on Rocky (the double retort pot still), after which it’s left to rest for a while and diluted down to 51% before bottling. 

If that sounds interesting, wait until you nose it, because while it’s not quite as well rounded as the Pure Single Rum, it’s hot, it’s spicy, it’s clean as new steel, and really crisp. There’s a sense of sparkling wine about it – chianti, Riesling, plus some 7up, and pineapples.  Lemony cumin, ginger, florals, cinnamon, which slowly merges with a damper aroma of rain on hot clay bricks and then softens into coconut shavings, oatmeal cookies and white chocolate crusted with almonds. The clear metallic sweat of someone who’s been exerting themselves in very cold weather after just having had a bath (yeah, I know how barmy that sounds). Juicy and ripe white fruits – papaya, guavas, pears, green apples and a few slices of pineapple. This is clearly a rum that enjoys Christmas.

The palate is somewhat more subdued, while still professing a certain originality. First there’s that clean scent of fresh laundry hot from the drier, followed by a sweet, tart, yoghurt, and citrus-y hints of ripe fruits that have not yet started to go. What distinguishes the taste is the way the sour miso soup or kimchi comes out swinging here, as does a kind of  sweet-salt tartness of, say, pickled tomatoes and bell peppers (with a reaper thrown in for good measure). Added to that are notes of pine, cinnamon, licorice, ginger, wet sawdust, fruits…it just keeps chugging along, one taste after another. This one rum packs a lot in its jock and isn’t afraid to sport it, right down to the aromatic, long, dry, fruity and crisp finish that immediately encourages another pour.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s occasionally hit and miss (that’s why I tried it multiple times), and the crisp sourness mixed with sweet and salt won’t be to everyone’s taste. And indeed, Wally told me that his own team liked the Pure Single Rum best; my friend and tasting chum Logan also felt it lagged (slightly) behind the Pure Single and even the Coastal Cane. 

I completely get that, because they are good rums in their own right, and I’ve reviewed them with genuine affection, scored them well. But for my money, those — while excellent in their own pitch — don’t break new ground with quite the same in-yer-face insouciance, don’t get hit outside the boundary, and remain satisfied with a solid bouncy four into deep fine leg. The High Ester Cane, in contrast, appeals to my love of the original, the offbeat, the new, and has no hesitation going for a powerful, lofty out-of-the-park six. It walks up to your wicket, hits you over the head and drags you off the field, and, love it or like it or hate it, you’ll always know you’ve had something different that day. That’s not a compliment in everyone’s book, but it sure is in mine.

(#1043)(87/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • My fellow Calgarian reviewer, friend and redditor, FarDefinition2, as well as another redditor FrostyThought8591 both felt the High Ester was not quite as good as the Pure Single or the Coastal Cane, but both agreed it would shine in cocktails. This is why sharing samples around and checking for feedback is so useful – it not only gives consumers another opinion, it also forces me to consider other points of view.

Company background (from Review #1029)

Capricorn Distilling’s origins date back to  2015 or so when Warren Brewer began distilling in his backyard with friends, using an 80-litre still from Spain (where he got it from is anyone’s guess). He released his first batch of premium rum in 2016 by which time he and five friends had bought the Saleyards motel in Rockhampton (the distillery was pushed into the pub and the idea was to use each line of business – motel, pub, restaurant, distillery – to provide a fuller experience for patrons), which is 650km north of Brisbane. This establishment is closed now and larger premises acquired in 2020 in the south of Queensland (in Burleigh Head on the Gold Coast, which is south of Brisbane and a mere stone’s thrown from the state border with NSW). Now the Saleyard company website redirects to Capricorn, but for a while in early 2021 both locations operated at the same time. From the beginning, it seems was rum was Brewer’s thing and indeed, his Capricorn Spiced Rum copped the top prize at the 2020 World Rum Awards. 

The distillery doesn’t stray too far away from the standard outputs we have observed in other small and newly-established companies: its stable of releases encompasses spiced and infused and flavoured rums, a liqueur, the unaged Coastal Cane, the High Ester rum and some experimentals we’ll talk about at some point; also Ready To Drink cans, and, of course, the ever-present cash flow generator of gins. The company runs two pot stills: one is a single retort copper pot still called “Burleigh”, the other a double called “Rocky” made in NSW.

Nov 272023
 

Capricorn really is a distillery off in its own zone, and I mean that in a good way. Aged or unaged I’ve rarely seen a producer so young make rums that display such a deft, sure touch – they’re not all world beaters, but I think they’re certainly a cut above the ordinary, even the entry-level standard-strength “Coastal Cane” which I likened to a cross between an agricole and a Jamaican white overproof. In November 2023 they had a sort of coming-out party at the Brisbane Rum Revolution, where there were a number of complimentary comments about the various releases: the Pure Single Rum was one of the ones singled out (no pun intended) for especial attention, and many remarked on how pleased they were to have tried it.

The Pure Single Rum, which is a title deriving from the Gargano Classification system (see other notes below) conforms to its requirements exactly – it is a rum made via batch distillation, on a pot still, from a single distillery.  It’s the extras that elevate it to the next level because few 4YO rums have the distinction of being this good (did someone say “Renaissance”?). The rum is molasses based, a week’s fermentation, aged in ex-Shiraz casks for 2½ before being transferred out to a new American oak barrel (no ex-bourbon here) and then decanted into 221 bottles at 56% in November 2022. The idea is always to have a limited amount of this rum based on a cask that’s deemed ready (Release 3 just hit the shelves a few months ago) and right now there are a couple hundred casks or so slumbering in the warehouse, waiting their moment. Labelling is minimal and states the provenance nicely, and there are no additives, no filtration, no extras.

Tasting notes, then: the nose opens with a hot breath of sweet strawberry-flavoured bubble gum, a salt caramel and vanilla ice cream cone, gummi bears, and white toblerone chocolate. Some very ripe dark grapes, prunes. Honey, waffles and cereal mix well with toffee and brown sugar: overall the aromas is consistently strong without being sharp, well controlled, slightly sweet to inhale and overall seems like a pillow for the nose. It also smells like the most “traditional” rum of the four Capricorn rums I had, because there’s less of the tart and slightly sour tang that characterises the others, and emphasises a profile we similar to that of Barbados, Panama and even Guyana (minus the wooden stills). 

I also enjoy the taste, and in assessing this aspect I can understand why it was so popular at the festival: a good mouthfeel, very warm, with honey, caramel, vanilla, fresh wonderbread toast, and even some salt crackers and brie. It has hints of ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, as well as swiss bonbons, dulce de leche and a few dates, figs and other mild fruits like papaya and watermelon. The finish is unambitious and lets you down easy without introducing anything that isn’t already there – a tawny mix of molasses, caramel, toffee, vanilla and honey with a sprinkling of breakfast spices.

The Pure Single rum is an interesting mix of solidity and delicacy at the same time, and yet it never strays too far from a traditional “rummy” taste: it is the one rum of the distillery that comes closest to being completely recognizable as an aged rum by anyone, and that’s one reason for its easy acceptance and why people liked it. It is not precisely challenging, and introduces little that is new: a trailblazer for a new Australian style it is not (though I would not have objected had it done so). Nor is Capricorn going for a moon shot or a Hail Mary pass — they have other rums for that. What they are trying to do with this one — and have succeeded, I think — is assemble a solid young rum that’s fascinating and tasty and well made, complex and delicious enough for Government work, and simply a really good rum to try on its own and to enjoy. 

(#1042)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • From Release #3 it looks like there is a now a numerical designator on the label.
  • “Pure Single Rum” is a term of relatively recent derivation. It was coined by Luca Gargano of Velier in 2017 as part of his suggested new classification of rum, which he believed was not being well served by older systems based on colour or regions. His idea was to create a new regimen that focused more on production techniques and he came up with four basic classifications: Pure Single rum, Traditional rum, Single Blended rum, and Ordinary rum. These form the basis of the Gargano classification, which is detailed in rather more depth on Velier’s page. It has received some criticism for shortcomings and exclusions, and for not catering to rums which fall outside the clear demarcations – some prefer the Cates System advocated by Martin Cates of Smuggler’s Cove which has more gradations and is easier to understand – but if it has added a single term to our vocabulary of rum, it’s that first category of Pure Single Rum.

Company background (from Review #1029 of the Coastal Cane)

Capricorn Distilling’s origins bean in 2015 or so when Warren Brewer began distilling in his backyard with friends, using an 80-litre still from Spain (where he got it from is anyone’s guess). He released his first batch of premium rum in 2016 by which time he and five friends had bought the Saleyards motel in Rockhampton (the distillery was pushed into the pub and the idea was to use each line of business – motel, pub, restaurant, distillery – to provide a fuller experience for patrons), which is 650km north of Brisbane. This establishment is closed now and larger premises acquired in 2020 in the south of Queensland (in Burleigh Head on the Gold Coast, which is south of Brisbane and a mere stone’s thrown from the state border with NSW). Now the Saleyard company website redirects to Capricorn, but for a while in early 2021 both locations operated at the same time. From the beginning, it seems was rum was Brewer’s thing and indeed, his Capricorn Spiced Rum copped the top prize at the 2020 World Rum Awards. 

The distillery doesn’t stray too far away from the standard outputs we have observed in other small and newly-established companies: its stable of releases encompasses spiced and infused and flavoured rums, a liqueur, the unaged Coastal Cane, the High Ester rum and some experimentals we’ll talk about at some point; also Ready To Drink cans, and, of course, the everpresent cash flow generator of gins. The company runs two pot stills: one is a single retort copper pot still called “Burleigh”, the other a double called “Rocky” made in NSW.

Nov 252023
 

Rumaniacs Review R-160 | #1041

Few rum aficionados need me to elaborate either on Don Q, the “other” major distillery on the island of Puerto Rico which makes it, Puerto Rico itself and it’s peculiar status vis-a-vis the USA, or indeed, this rum. Any one of them is an essay in itself and can lead to any number of rabbit holes,

Let’s just stick to the basics, then. In brief: like Bacardi, Destilería Serrallés was founded by a Catalan emigre in the 1860s (the sugar plantation the Serrallés family first bought goes back three decades before that), though they lacked the global ambitions of the larger company’s operations and have stayed within Puerto Rico.  Don Q, named after Sancho Panza’s elderly sidekick, is the flagship brand of Destilería Serrallés with several expressions dating back to 1932 when it was launched to compete with Bacardi: however, let’s be clear – the Cristal was first released in 1978, when it was specifically designed to compete with the rising popularity of vodka. Before that, I think white rums were just called “Don Q” and had a distinguishing white label (my assumption), since I can’t find any reference to a specific one predating the Cristal.

The Cristal itself is a white rum, adhering to the Latin style of light ‘n’ easy rum making, and is the result of distillation on a multi-column still, aged in ex-bourbon barrels for between one and five years, filtered to colourlessness, blended, and then bottled at standard strength (40%). The review of the modern equivalent gives you some more details of the version you’re likely to find on store shelves these days – this one, as far as I can  tell, is from the mid to late 1980s, perhaps the 1990s (the label has undergone several revisions over the years and for different countries, so dating is imprecise at best).

Colour – white

Strength – 40%

Nose – Has a sort of light and creamy aroma, like custard drizzled with vanilla syrup.  Acetones and nail polish. Slightly sweet, somewhat warm. A few faint fruity notes – nothing really identifiable leaps out – which are just trembling on the edge of a flat cream soda.

Palate – Sharpish, mostly pineapple, vanilla and flavoured yoghurt, iodine. Not a whole lot going on here and while not really unpleasant, there are too many discernible medicinal and ethanol notes to make to a drink worth having.

Finish – Decently long, sweet vanilla milkshake and an apricot slice or two. Unremarkable, but at least there’s something here, which is already better than most of these bland, anonymous filtered blancos from the era.

Thoughts – My remarks about when it was issued and why, is the key to unlocking why the profile is what it is: inoffensive, bland, easy, vodka-like…and by today’s standards, rather uninteresting.  It remains what it has always been, a cheap bar mixer, without much of an edge to wake up a mixed drink. Older versions like this one seem even blander than the modern ones, and so my recommendation is to get one if you like to drink some rums from Ago, but don’t expect too much, and keep mixing your mojito with what’s on the shelves today.

(73/100) ⭐⭐½

Nov 202023
 

Photo (c) MasterQuill.com

The Martinique distillery Clement has, since 1989, ceased making rhum — the brand’s juice has been distilled up the road at the facilities of Distillerie Simon, and from 2017 also and increasingly from Fonds-Preville (both are owned by the Hayot Group). The original premises, however, are still used for ageing, blending and bottling Clement rhums, and they still maintain the AOC designation. Depending on who you speak to then, it supposedly has at least some terroire harkening back to what old Homere Clement made on his plantation of Domaine de l’Acajou, the progenitor of the brand.

Clement was among the first agricole rhums I ever tried, and initially their precise and fussy and clearly-defined tastes weren’t entirely to my liking; over the years, of course, I “ketch sense” and learned to appreciate them for what they were — nowadays I consider my (third) bottle of the Clement XO one of the best rhums I have to show people what an aged agricole is capable of. Over the years other Clement rhums showed their expertise: the release of the trio of 1952, 1970 and 1976 rhums, the special edition Cuvée Homère Clément Hors d’Âge, and an increasing amount of experimentals, single barrel expressions, millesimes and unaged blancs — even a canne bleue of its own.

The subject of today’s review is an ostensibly simple 9 YO expression from 2002 – a Trés Vieux Rhum Agricole, all from 100% canne bleue, aged in a single cask of ex-bourbon, 587 bottle outturn (of 50cl bottles) and a nice and firm 46.8% strength. I suppose the “cask” must have been a big one to provide that many bottles after nine years, even if they were only 500ml – I think we can assume either it was a slightly more sizeable container, rather than an American Standard Barrel 1, or the single barrel moniker is in error and it’s a blend of a couple or a few.

Whatever the ultimate provenance and barrel(s), this is a solid rhum that represents itself and its distillery very nicely indeed. It smells as fresh and bright and sparkly as bedewed sunlit grass and sheets fresh and clean from the laundry, with just a hint of citrus to the whole thing. Herbs, sugar cane sap, pears and white guavas take their turn, and It has additional notes of sweet caramel drizzled over vanilla ice cream, plus prunes, raisins, stewed apples and even a touch of coffee. An espresso of course, with a background chorus of leather, smoke and light tannins becoming evident with some water (though the rhum really doesn’t need that, honestly).

The pleasure here is in how pleasantly light it is to taste. It doesn’t sting, doesn’t bite, it’s not so heavy as to dissolve your tongue or so strong as to cause damage – it’s clean and crisp and no-nonsense, briny with olives and gherkins and some musky sweet spices (cinnamon, fenugreek, rosemary, smoky paprika, masala and even a trace of Kashmiri chilli powder, I kid you not. The same fruits as on the nose reappear to balance this all off, and there’s remarkably little sour in the way this presents: just a nice, easy, almost light crisp white wine-type sensation, culminating in a finish of berries, burnt sugar, toffee and breakfast spices. It’s completely unthreatening and completely pleasurable to drink, and never once seems like it’s straining to make the case.

Honestly, without trying to oversell the rhum, I think it’s a minor treasure: not an undiscovered steal, precisely, more a rum whose qualities seem initially subdued, and so gets somewhat overlooked, and is now mostly forgotten. It grows in the memory over time, however; it gets better and holds up well not only against other brands, but one’s own evolving palate. And each subsequent tasting expands in the appreciation a bit more until you can’t quite put your finger on it, but somehow it has become a quiet personal favourite on its own terms, and a more valued bottle in the collection than those with seemingly stronger credentials. My sample is now gone after four tries to pin down its elusive and ephemeral impact, but these notes will help me remember its unpretentious quality and the enjoyment I took from it, for a long time to come.

(#1040)(85/100) ⭐⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • A second 2002 vintage bottling of 582 bottles at 41.6% and barrel #20070079 was done in September 2012 and is sometimes labelled as a 10 YO.
  • If your interest has been piqued and you’re googling for this thing, I’m sorry to report that you’ll find thin pickings. Rum-X doesn’t list it, neither does Rum Ratings — even Whiskyfun, which has more Clement reviews than anyone, hasn’t got this one. And whatever shops you turn up in the search will likely be pointing to a 10YO, a 15YO or some other variant with a different strength or year of make, so no luck there.  In fact, the only unambiguous reference you will find is a 2015 review on the site of Master Quill (mostly whiskies to be sure, but quite a lot of rums as well), and that’s no surprise at all since he was the source of this sample, more than five years ago (so a big thank you to the man, even if it’s late in coming).
  • My photo of the sample didn’t work out and so I copied the one from Master Quill’s review.